PLEASE NOTE THIS REVIEW IS FULL OF SPOILERS! IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN ENDGAME YET, DO NOT READ!
Avengers was the end of the beginning, a dizzying crossover of five previous films that solidified the cinematic universe. Every studio in Hollywood tried to replicate it. That movie foreshadowed Thanos and the supplementary films retconned some things and introduced some more to build towards Avengers: Infinity War. The momentum of everything before it continued from New York to Vormir to Titan to Wakanda until finally the Mad Titan snapped his fingers and murdered half the universe.
Avengers: Endgame is immediately more intimate due to this. Everything that didn’t necessitate a perfect exit for the original six Avengers has been stripped away. Tony is saved from space by Captain Marvel and she is quickly dismissed. We’re not here for next-gen heroes. We’re here for our heroes. She does help the team murder Thanos but at this point it doesn’t matter. The stones are gone and their failure is permanent.
Until Ant-Man knocks on the front door five years later and postulates time travel. It’s his first time in an Avengers movie and he’s a hilarious contrast to the defeated veterans. Avengers leader Black Widow considers it a real possibility and asks Captain America to help him talk to Iron Man and Hulk, both men who found peace post-snap. The stakes are high but eventually the whole team – including a truly traumatised Thor and Hawkeye, the last Guardians standing Rocket and Nebula, and the ever faithful Rhodey – all unite for a time heist.
Almost every movie in the cinematic universe informs this one, but only Avengers: Infinity War is truly necessary. Yet the fanservice screaming from the screen should be enjoyed to its maximum so at the very least check in with the original Avengers film, and maybe the first entries to Iron Man and Captain America.
The second act of the film mostly takes place during the Battle of New York, the climax of The Avengers. Hulk collects the Time Stone from the Ancient One and Captain America battles himself for the Mind Stone. There’s a levity to these scenes that don’t put this finale in the same dour tones as Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. The retroactive worldbuilding was a rush but there’s a plot thread hanging with Loki that needs to be resolved, perhaps on Disney+.
As such Iron Man fails to obtain the Tesseract and he gets a small part of his happy ending. His character has been defined, shadowed, reflected and judged against Howard Stark for nine films. So when he got a face to face conversation with the pillar of his personality in 1970 it gave a sense of closure and finality.
On the alien worlds Rhodey retrieves the Power Stone but Nebula inadvertently makes 2014 Thanos aware of their motives. After humanising him so effectively in the previous instalment the story doesn’t mind having him as a raging force of nature rather than an actual character. On Vormir Black Widow plays the role of Gamora to less shocking results.
Black Widow deserved better. After an Iron Man solo movie, a Cap solo movie, an Iron Man/Cap crossover movie, an Avengers movie that focussed on her relationship with Hawkeye and another that focussed on her relationship with the Hulk, the leader of the Avengers should have survived and starred in her own solo series. Next year we get the prequel eulogy, but Johansson and Widow have always been criminally underrated.
As one of the final pieces of the Infinity Saga it makes perfect sense. The movies goes to lengths to say that Black Widow will never leave the Avengers. She has a home and a family and a purpose she would die for, and she did.
The final fight is everything a fan could have ever dreamed of. Iron Man, Captain America and Thor give a rousing three-on-one effort, then each have a swing on their own until only Captain America is conscious. His one on one with Thanos is the best moment of the movie and fulfils two epic comic book moments before a whole alien army amasses. This is the pillar of his character: Captain America stands alone against an army if he has to.
The inevitable resurrection scene – that surprisingly did not include Loki, Gamora, Vision or Black Widow – spurs one of the greatest battles ever committed to film. Every time Marvel outdoes themselves. While the next-gen heroes of Spiderman, Black Panther, Doctor Strange and Captain Marvel get a moment each the focus remains on the original six five.
Eleven years ago in Iron Man Pepper Potts says to Tony “You’re going to kill yourself doing this”. At the end of the saga he does just that on his own terms, finally resting in victory surrounded by his wife, his protégé, his Avengers. The cornerstone of the universe was for a brief moment the most powerful man in it. It was an apt conclusion.
The Hulk got his happy ending offscreen during the five year time jump. He amalgamated Banner and the Hulk into Professor Hulk and while it’s a fun character it’s unlikely he’ll be called to the next Avengers roster, especially with his gauntlet-related injury. The same can be said of Thor. He may even costar in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 given his rise in popularity post-Ragnarok but there’s plenty of room for the new kids to take the team name Avengers and make it their own.
In a movie with a lot of conclusive scenes, also a la Return of the King, the final one landed perfectly. Captain America is a man displaced in time. If he were the character to lament, he would lament he didn’t have time travel. So of course it’s him who volunteers to return the stones to their right place in spacetime to avoid the sci-fi logic from collapsing in on itself, and of course he never comes back.
And so Avengers: Endgame has its cake and it eats it too. It kills Iron Man and gives him a tender funeral scene, then gives Captain America the perfect ending he’s always dreamed of in the twentieth century with the love of his life. So while it seemed impossible to channel all the momentum from the previous 21 films into a satisfying ending, Marvel did just that.
Review by Mark Halyday